Memories of submarine life preserved by Gosport project
A unique heritage project in Gosport, home town of the Submarine Service for almost a century, has gathered a treasure trove of submariners' memories.
The Submariners' Stories project has recorded interviews with 15 people connected with the service, most of them from the local area, to preserve a vital part of Gosport history for future generations. As well as the interviews, the project's online archive also hosts historical images and specially commissioned portraits, plus many personal photos that have never been seen publicly before.
HMS Dolphin, the former Royal Naval shore establishment at Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, was the home of the Submarine Service from 1904 to 1999, and the site of the Royal Navy Submarine School.
From 1954 to 2020, its submarine escape training tank (SETT) was used in the training of submariners. A famous rite of passage involved ascending its 100ft water column to simulate escaping from a sunken boat. The iconic building, a prominent landmark on Portsmouth Harbour, is now listed and new uses are being sought for it.
The interviews were carried out by Meeja, an oral history consultancy on the Isle of Wight. Director Simon Perry said: "The target was to cover the range of roles and ranks at all levels that make the Submarine Service what it is. Each one of the submariners' stories is fascinating, each providing a different insight into submarine life.
"The project lifts the curtain on a hidden world that very few people outside the submarine 'family' have any knowledge of. It's not just men we hear from. We also interviewed a serving female submariner and a submariner's wife to gain a whole picture.
"A real coup for the project was to secure time with Commodore Jim Perks, who shared incredible stories from his 38-year naval career, which saw him climb the ranks from junior rating to become head of the service.
"It's been a real honour to be trusted by these submariners to capture their oral histories for future generations."
The project was commissioned by Gosport's two Heritage Action Zone schemes, one of which covers the borough as a whole, while another concentrates on the town's high street area. The schemes, led by Historic England with the support of Gosport Borough Council, seek to celebrate local heritage and use it to boost economic growth and quality of life.
As part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone, the frontage of the Royal Arms Hotel on Stoke Road, Gosport has recently been renovated. The building, which closed as a public house about 14 years ago, was known as "the submariners' pub".
Its recordings will also be held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and material from the project will soon be showcased on screens at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.
Cllr Peter Chegwyn, Leader of Gosport Borough Council, said: "This is a superb local history resource that highlights HMS Dolphin's vital contribution to the defence of this country and - by training submariners from around the world - many other countries. This story is a crucial part of our borough's rich military heritage, and this project will help to make sure it is never forgotten."
Marion Brinton, partnerships team leader at Historic England, said: "The heritage of Gosport and the Royal Navy is intertwined and together make what is so unique about the town. We're delighted to support Submariners' Stories though the Heritage Action Zones. These oral histories let us dive right into the experiences of submariners past and present, and many local people have contributed, offering a new perspective on the Silent Service and Gosport's shared local heritage."
Alexandra Geary, curator (artefacts) at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: "The museum is very proud to be part of this project, which celebrates the link between Gosport and the Submarine Service, the very reason for the Submarine Museum being located adjacent to the former submarine base, HMS Dolphin - now known by its former name, Fort Blockhouse."